Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fun Creative Writing Exercise

I was challenged to do a writing exercise that a bunch of talented people have already completed. Basically, we are supposed to write something incorporating 15 random things that were suggested to the original author. This is my attempt. (As usual, it is bloody long.) (Yes, I suck at linking)

A Dish Served Cold

Joan glanced over at her traveling companion as their old Plymouth ate up the miles on the interstate. The blackberries they’d picked that morning by the side of the creek were almost gone. She’d been nervous while they crashed through the brambles, filling the bucket, surprised the bears had left so many for them to take.
Now they were out on the open road again, and Rick had his feet stuck out the window and his eyes were closed, tunelessly humming along to the Stones, one of the toothpicks they’d used to remove the seeds from their teeth still between his lips.

This trip had been a spontaneous impulse, but it seemed to be working a spell on Rick, making the stress of the last few months melt away. His diagnosis had been such a shock. She’d tried to concentrate when the doctors began their grim verdict, but after she heard “Radioactive isotopes,” she pretty much zoned out. It still didn’t seem real. He couldn’t be dying. Rick was the top distance runner on the Track team, the picture of vibrant health, working on his thesis on East African micro-lending and Ugandan coffee plantations. Then one day he just couldn’t keep down anything he ate, and the world started to condense, like a tunnel, getting darker and farther away from anything she recognized. Her dreams seemed to dissipate like morning fog. She didn’t even hesitate when he asked her to leave with him, despite that it meant letting her sister finally get her chance to edge her out of the family business. She couldn’t keep up the fight anymore, anyway. She scarcely knew why she’d worked so hard anyway at trying to keep hold of something that seemed to mean something only to her. All her sister saw was dollar signs at the prospect of selling out.

The gas gauge was nearly on empty when she finally saw a sign in the distance and took the turnoff.
“I need coffee” she said aloud, but knew there was little hope of getting any. The tires churned up clouds of dust as she pulled up to the small, desolate looking station and turned off the engine.
It was so quiet out here. The gas station looked like it had been part of a set from an old movie, and the ageless character sitting on the chair out front looked like she’d always been there. Her lined face, the southwest blanket around her shoulders, the toothless grin she directed at Joan as she got out of the Plymouth and began to pump gas. Rick stayed where he was, apparently stuck like glue to the car seat, still humming along to whatever was playing in his head.
Joan walked up to the old woman and held out a twenty, trying not to react to the tarantula perched on the woman’s shoulder, or to the empty fifth of Jack Daniels at her feet. The old woman grinned, shook her head, and pointed toward the open door to her left, the interior dark and silent. Joan peered inside the doorway, but saw no one. She looked back at the old woman, who was slowly swaying back and forth. Joan gestured with the twenty and looked questioningly at the woman, but she just nodded and spoke one word, pointing at the doorway. “Torquemada.”
Not understanding much Spanish beyond her restaurant days, Joan stuck her head once more inside the darkened door and called “hello?”
A rustle and a clatter answered her, followed by a middle aged man in a purple tshirt, wiping his hands on a rag and smiling warmly, coming toward her from deep inside.
“Pardon me,” he said to her in a deep musical voice. He saw the bill in her hand and looked toward the woman on the porch who was laughing. He took the money and shook his head at the old woman. Joan turned back to the car and opened the door.
“Is there a hotel nearby?” she asked the man.
“Just up ahead, next exit. The Neptune.”
“Thanks,” she said as she closed the door.
“I need coffee,” she said again as she started the car.
The sun was going down as she pulled into the hotel’s parking lot. Rick roused himself and got their bags out of the trunk while Joan talked to the desk clerk in the tiny office. The room was small and spare but smelled clean, and her exhaustion hit her at last like an ocean wave, and Joan was barely able to lie down and kick off her shoes before she was asleep on the flowered bedspread. When she opened her eyes, light was coming in through the thin curtains, and Rick was not next to her. She got up and pulled on her jeans, and looked out the window. There was Rick, across the street in the vacant lot, talking to a little kid straddling a bike. As she opened the door and walked outside, Rick turned and saw her, and the kid rode off quickly. He smiled at her and she thought he looked better than he had in a long time, and worse, too.
“I need coffee,” she said to him as he came toward her.
“You need a 12 step program,” he teased.
“C’mon, I know where we can get some,” he said as he took her arm and led her down the street. A sign on the corner looked promising and within minutes Joan was sitting at a Formica counter listening to the sizzle of bacon frying while their waitress bustled about bringing them mugs and silverware.
“Coffee?” she asked.
Joan nodded. She looked down the counter and saw the kid who had been on the bike, now at the end of the row blowing bubbles.
She knew better than to ask Rick what was going on, but he seemed to sense her question, and pulled a square of folded paper out of his pocket and set it on the counter between them.
“Last week, just before we left,” he said, and smiled at her confused expression. “I cashed out my accounts; closed everything. This is for you.”
She stared at the cashier’s check he smoothed out and dumbly noticed the number of zeros.
“For when this is over. You’ll need it when you go back.”
She thought about what this would mean.
The waitress came back and offered them some pie. All at once, Joan was overcome with laughter, thinking about her grandmother’s love of quoting Hitchcock, especially “Revenge is sweet and not fattening.”
Tears streaming down her face, she could only nod and gasp. “Pie. Yes.”


  1. "Coffee?"

    BRAVO, MtnMama! I loved it! I've read it several times and each time I find something that amuses more than the last!

    I'm so glad you took part! Stay tuned...I think there is another one in the works!

  2. Well done!! You're a great writer, MtnMama!

  3. Been lurking here off and on a couple of weeks and I am enthralled by your backstory series (Charm) as well as upcoming career and life changes. This story is a fitting companion to the regular fare. And I love a tale where so much of what is important is left unsaid.

    Well done!

  4. Samsmama: You are such a sweetheart for being so complimentary! I would love to do another one! (and it beats homework handsdown)

    Bev: Coming from you, that means a lot. I really appreciate it!

    travellinbaen: I'm thrilled to think that I have lurkers! Especially when they have such praise as yours!